By Evan Ramstad
LAS VEGAS _ Fresh off the biggest sales month in personal computers and one of the biggest for televisions, the consumer electronics industry comes together today to flaunt the next generation of products.
More than 95,000 people are expected at the four-day Winter Consumer Electronics Show, the largest gathering of the makers and sellers of the things that plug into the wall, a $56 billion industry in 1994.
Historically dominated by television and stereos, the convention also has become a prime spot to see the latest personal computers.
The Electronic Industries Association, which sponsors the show, estimates sales of personal computers passed ordinary TVs in dollar volume for the first time in 1994. With projection TV sets included, overall TV sales in dollar volume still exceeded personal computers, $8.3 billion to $8.0 billion.
Another sign of the growing importance of consumers to the PC industry is that the chief of the largest PC software firm, Microsoft Corp.'s Bill Gates, will make his first appearance at the trade show on Saturday.
The chief executive officer of Sony Corp.'s U.S. operations, Mickey Schulhof, will use his keynote speech on Friday to talk about the growing role computer technology plays in TVs, stereos and other consumer products.
The company will make a splash this year in video games, an industry niche undergoing intense scrutiny because of a sales decline last year, when other parts of the industry flourished.
Sony will demonstrate its PlayStation device, an advanced system that will compete with new products planned by industry leaders Sega and Nintendo and existing systems by 3DO and Atari.
"There is a transition process going on as the next series of hardware is brought out in 1995," said Gary Shapiro, group vice president of the Electronic Industries Association.
As the industry first learned in the mid-1980s, purchases of new game systems tends to level out at 40 percent of U.S. households. With that level achieved in 1993 by 16-bit systems, the current standard for processing power in video games, some analysts forecast steep sales declines in 1994.
Through November, however, sales of video game systems and software were down just 11 percent. Executives said some games such as Nintendo's Donkey Kong Country for Nintendo and Sega's Sonic and Knuckles, both of which featured attractive graphic illustrations, kept the figure from worsening. …